What Is a Prosecutor’s Obligation to Provide Discovery to the Defense in California Sexual Assault Cases?

Criminal cases are supposed to be about the pursuit of truth. However, over the years, courts have routinely caught prosecutors trying to hide evidence from defendants. Most often, this is evidence that is favorable to the defense and would have been harmful to the prosecution’s case had the defense been provided the evidence.

Discovery is the process by which the parties exchange evidence that they plan to use at trial. Given the concerns mentioned above, in a 1964 case, the United States Supreme Court created some basic rules requiring the prosecution to provide certain discovery to the defense in all criminal cases. These rules have been embodied in the current version of the California Penal Code. For example, under California Penal Code section 1054.1, the prosecution must disclose:

  • the names and address of all witnesses it plans to call at trial;
  • all statements made by the defendant;
  • all relevant real evidence;
  • whether any material witness for the prosecution has a felony conviction; and
  • the written or recorded statements of witness the prosecution plans to use at trial.

While enforcing the prosecution’s discovery obligations is crucial in any case, it can be especially important in California sexual assault cases. In many sexual assault cases, the prosecution’s case often comes down to the testimony of a single witness. If the defendant chooses to testify, these cases quickly turn into a “he said, she said” situation. Even if the defendant opts not to testify, the credibility of the prosecution’s witness is still essential to their case.

Given the emphasis on credibility in California sexual assault cases, the importance of a witness’ contradictory statements or prior misidentifications are of great importance. In addition, the defense should be informed of the existence of witnesses who may have heard the complaining witness disavow the allegations or otherwise know the charges to be unfounded, even if the prosecution does not believe their side of the story.

Too often, prosecutors in California sexual assault cases convince themselves that evidence is not relevant or otherwise not subject to the mandatory discovery rules. Of course, prosecutors cannot lie about information in their file, and may be forced to disclose evidence if it exists. An experienced California criminal defense attorney knows the importance of conducting a thorough investigation in hopes of discovering favorable evidence as well as what evidence to ask for from the prosecution and how to ask for it.

Are You Facing a California Sex Offense?

If you have recently been arrested and charged with a California sex offense, contact the dedicated California criminal defense attorney John W. Noonan. At the Law Office of John W. Noonan, we represent those who have been charged with all types of California sexual offenses, including sexual assault, prostitution, possession of child pornography and rape. To learn more about how we can help you defend against the charges you are facing, call 925-463-3340 to schedule a free consultation today.

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California Appellate Court Reversed Conviction Based on Trial Court’s Failure to Review Officers’ Personnel Files, Law Office of John W. Noonan, February 6, 2019.

The Right of a Defendant to Confront a Child Witness in California Sex Offense Cases, Law Office of John W. Noonan, February 27, 2019.

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